The Fault In Our Stars – 2014

Director Josh Boone
Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
Screenplay Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber based on the book by John Green

There is one point early on in The Fault in Our Stars which rings partially true.  Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster (Elgort and Woodley) have met cute in a cancer group and have spent one date together.  During this date, they agree to read one book that is especially important to the other.  They send messages back and forth to each other about the books.  Then she gets a call from him.  This call is confusing for her, as she hears screaming in the background.  Augustus gives her an all too brief clue as to what is happening, and tells her to come over right away.  Hazel Grace arrives there shortly afterwards and they sit and converse as they pay passing attention to their friend (Wolff) and his anguish of losing a girlfriend.  While his friend is overacting his grief, the scene rings true to young love, where two could find each others eyes in a cesspool of misery.

It’s not that The Fault in Our Stars trades on this misery…well not in a cynical way.  The intention  is an expression of stars crossing for two people who may well have stopped looking skyward.  The late teen years are fraught with possibility as well as drama.  We feel like we can fly, but we’ve been in a cage for so long, we have no idea what it would be like. The kick here is these teens have had their wings clipped even before they are opened for the first time. It’s a brilliant premise, even if it is awkward at times.

There are several aspects taken from the book that just ring as silly.  The cigarette that will never be smoked, pretentious musings of a reclusive author, and exclaiming the wish to marry dragon fruit carrot risotto are among the leading candidates.

There are as many things that are touchingly real.  The way Augustus Waters continually refers to Woodley’s character as Hazel Grace is as old as time, but it is a wonderful expression.  His declaration of love works as well on the screen as it does in print, especially after treading the careful path through Hazel Grace’s obsession with her own mortality.  It’s easy to love the way Hazel Grace’s father is still the sensitive man he is in the book.

Where the story hits its stride is after they meet the pretentious author (Dafoe) and take a trip to the house where Anne Frank lived.  From the moment she tells Agustus to “…get over yourself…” we discover that this is more a lesson for her than it is for him.  Seeing her close her eyes and shake her head upon learning this and his reaction to her is the most touching moment in film this year.

Elgort and Woodley have an easy chemistry, especially with the occasionally clunky material early on.  The last half of the film is powerful and starkly portrayed, with little time to breathe and much time to show compassion through grief.  The reading of William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow (“So much depends…”) is a seminal moment brilliantly played.  There is plenty of cheese scattered throughout the story, but there are more moments touchingly conceived and excellently acted.  The result is a film that at its worst feels sophomoric, at best is existential, but is always honest and real.

There are many excellent lines in the story and instead of coming up with something not so clever to end this review with, I will let Green’s words do so properly:

Hazel Grace: I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep: Slowly, and then all at once.

Augustus Waters: I am in love with you. And I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed. And that one day all our labor will be returned to dust. And I know that the sun will swallow the only earth we will ever have. And I am in love with you.

Hazel Grace: Funerals, I’ve decided, are not for the dead.  They’re for the living.

Hazel Grace: But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.

(**** out of *****)

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